The red terror of central India

At first they lived their own lives in and off the forests, they had their own customs and worshiped their own gods. Then came the missionaries who promised them a new heaven and some believed them. Then came the politician promising a socialist heaven but went away to be followed by the ideologue promising a new egalitarian heaven on earth. Then came the man with the huge machines that uprooted their forests, destroyed their way of life like no one else had done before but promised them pots of cash. 

At that time the sarkari babu, the neta, the policeman, and even those Robin Hoods who promised them an earthly paradise, had joined these rich newcomers, all in the name of helping the tribals. This deep nexus has allowed the Maoists to amass weapons and a huge war booty estimated to be worth thousands of crores. Consequently, the problem is getting worse.

Today, the Naveen Patnaik government in Odisha looks particularly hapless as it went through a torrid and embarrassing time from March. The Maoists picked up two Italian hostages on March 14, from the Kandhamal district releasing one on March 24.

This was followed by the kidnapping of BJD legislator, Jhina Hikaka, the next day from Koraput district. The kidnappers’ demands were as expected — release of specified prisoners and the stopping of the operation against them. Negotiations for the hostages continue as the demands escalate increasing the possibility that the State might give in.

With the Maoists holding Italian national Paolo Bosusco and BJD legislator Jhina Hikaka hostage, the Naveen Patnaik government in Odisha looks particularly hapless

Elsewhere, Maoists set off a high-intensity land mine in Gadchiroli in Maharashtra killing 12 CRPF personnel who were travelling in a supposedly Mine Proof Vehicle. Apparently the land mines had been planted some months ago but went undetected. This shows both a lack of intelligence and an enhanced lethal and indigenous ability of the Maoists.

Simultaneous raids in February this year in Kolkata, Mumbai and Raipur revealed an extensive weapons research, development and manufacturing effort by the Maoists. They have even been working on the manufacture of rockets with Rocket Launcher facilities, according to Dr P V Ramana of the IDSA. There is a certain amount of sophistication in the Maoists efforts to develop these capabilities as they operate from different sites and segregate manufacture of various rockets, rocket launchers and mines and so on and their assembly.

Years of half-hearted and uncoordinated attempts by the state to overpower the Maoists have not been successful. The merger of the Maoist Communist Centre and the Peoples war group in 2004 raise the strength of the force to an estimated 15,000 which is five times the number of terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir. This merger also allowed flexibility of movement and safe havens all across the affected area to the Maoists while the state forces remained constrained by jurisdictional problems, inadequacy of forces, equipment, morale and training.

Insurgencies may not topple governments unless they are massively aided by external state support. There is no evidence that this is the case with the Maoists so far. Nevertheless, India cannot progress sufficiently if sections of its population remain alienated.

The Maoist problem has its genesis in poor governance which greed of private entrepreneurs awakened by liberalisation and the demand for raw materials in the resource rich tribal areas of Central India aggravated the problem.

Today the answer is not simply providing better facilities, schools and hospitals, bridges and roads. The tendency to provide or promise more of these facilities without improving basic governance is counterproductive. The government must establish its authority and ensure law and order and security through the civil force and not through the army.

The state must develop an ability to detect, deter and destroy insurgency through a combination of smart intelligence and a sharp police apparatus which would be the sword arm of the state. It is only after this has been achieved substantially should the state move into the next phase to develop the area and dialogue with the insurgents.

A military solution can never be the complete answer and the solution is the alleviation of the grievances. Counter insurgency/terror is an all inclusive effort involving all arms of the government apart from those who actually die battling the insurgents.

The writer is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)

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